The George Washington Center for Strategy, Leadership, and Organizational Effectiveness
George Washington ably lead to complex organizations to critical success. As the commander of the Continental Army, his vision, organization ability and, most importantly, his leadership kept the army together during some of the most trying times in American history. The same can be said of his tenure as president. He formed the government, kept many diverse personalities working together and set the precedence for all future administrations.
Washington saw the Continental Army through some very dark days and held it together through eight difficult years of war. Whether it was leading a courageous attack on Trenton or sending skilled commanders to critical areas or quelling a near mutiny late in the war after the victory at Yorktown, Washington kept true to his vision and executed decisive leadership. He also surrounded himself with able subordinates and worked through their various issues to preserve the organization. He did not let setbacks deter him or change the vision, but kept focused.
As the first president of the United States, Washington used the same skills to keep a group of talented men, many with different goals, working together to ensure the Republic had a strong foundation. He understood the Republic's core values and acted to preserve them and to embed them in processes and fiber of the government. In his farewell address, he left the country with a vision that helped set a national strategy theough the Spanish American War.
To be effective, organizations must have:
The organization must also clearly understand the environment in which it operates and continually sense the environment for changes that will impact purpose, culture, and operational execution. These changes could be:
But simply understanding the environment and correctly reading the changes is only part of the issue. The organization must also be able to make effective decisions and implement them. This dynamic is shown in the figure below.
Sensing is both an unstructured and a directed effort. Unstructured sensing brings in massive amounts of data based on some loose rules that are aligned to strategic goals. The goal is to gather a great deal of data without a lot of filtering and then build trends and conduct targeted analyses as required. Directed collection uses tailored filters to gather specific information, for specific purposes. Usually, these are to answer critical questions and to fill information gaps. See the Benjamin Franklin Center for Knowledge Management for additional details. Knowledge Management is an integral part of organizational and leader support. In today's complex environment, organizations must have a well integrated knowledge management concept.
Reading is going through the data gathered during sensing and integrating it into a comprehensive situational awaress. Effectively, the organization turns the data into information that can support various applications and requirements.
Understanding ensures the leaders understand the information, and just as importantly how to use it for task execution and decision-making. It also brings various threads of information together into holistic views that help the leaders understand how key trends will impact the organization and then use to develop strategy and operational execution plans.
The leader must then make a decision. Sometimes this is the most difficult part of leadership and strategy development. Often the way ahead is not crystal clear and leaders must make a decision on less than perfect information. A true leader, however, will have both the courage to make the decision and the courage to adapt it as more information becomes available.
Making a decision, however, is only the first step. The leader must ensure the decision is feasible, resolves the issue, and has a well understood action plan. Executing the action plan is actually a decision as well. The action plan then must be vigorously executed, continually assessed and updated as more information comes available through follow on sensing.
Knowledge Management, however, is only one of the supporting elements. Organizational culture and underpinning values are critical as the actual structure of the organization.
If decisions require changes or even conflict with organizational values, they may be very difficult to implement. The leader must take the cultural components of a decision into account, especially when the decision changes or modifies strategy or the organization's fundamental mission statement and values. The leader must then effectively communicate why the organization must implement the decision and make changes. Many may resist and the leader must be prepared to work through objections and at times outright resistance. If necessary, the leader must be able to clearly communicate a new vision and work throughout the organization to explain at and get buy-in. Machiavelli wrote,
It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it
Organizational structure also has a huge impact. There is an old bureaucratic saying, that "where you stand depends upon where you sit". Structure has many implications that include how many layers are in the organization, how does information flow throughout the organization, and how do different parts of the organization relate to one another. Is the structure formal--ie does information have to flow only through prescribed channels or is it informal and information flow is somewhat independent of structure. Is structure rigid or fluid? The organizational dynamics will shape and influence how decisions are assimilated and implemented.
Likewise organizational processes and governance system also shape decision making, information flow and decision implementation. Are the processes well structured and documented or are they simply a "guide" or maybe even not written? Are there even processes?
A state is just a form of an organization, albeit one with some different dynamics. States have cultures, values, structures, processes, and governance systems. Some states are highly structured and other are perhaps loose groupings. Like any organization, a state must sense, read, and understand the environment and react it or shape it. To do this, the state must set strategies and make and implement decisions. And someone or group must do these tasks. Perhaps the biggest differences between the state and other organizations are: